IS THIS A MOMENT of cultural change? I see glimpses of a new way of thinking. The New York Times recently ran articles on both the cult of thrift and the financial independence/retire early—or FIRE—movement. Words like mindfulness, purpose and meaning have gained new currency. U.S. household debt is growing, but it’s still barely higher than a decade ago. The national savings rate even shows signs of improving.
Maybe this is yet another reverberation from the Great Recession. Maybe it’s financial necessity, as Americans adjust their lifestyle to their skimpy savings. Maybe our perspective on money is changing: The young are turned off by the work world’s brutally long hours and constant layoffs, while the old are realizing how little happiness money has brought them.
Gone is the obsession with The Good Life. We were raised to think that happiness lay in material goods and moments of relaxation. But the material goods proved disappointing and those moments of relaxation left us restless. Now, what people increasingly want is A Good Life—one that’s focused on time with friends and family, work that’s fulfilling and a sense of financial security.
I’m not suggesting everybody’s on board with this cultural shift. There are still plenty of folks who seek salvation at the shopping mall or one rung further up the corporate ladder. We’re hardwired to run the hedonic treadmill, confident that the next purchase, promotion or pay raise will finally bring lasting happiness, only to discover it doesn’t.
But it’s also possible to buck those hardwired instincts, cultivate new habits and learn new ways of thinking. Change isn’t easy, but it is indeed possible.
Think about the investment world. Most of us are inclined to be overconfident. One example: 65% of Americans think they’re more intelligent than average. In the past, that sort of overconfidence led many investors to try their hand at beating the market. But over the past decade, millions have realized that this overconfidence has cost them dearly, prompting them to shovel trillions of dollars into market-matching index funds.
Similarly, it’s possible to unlearn the beliefs that have left us going nowhere fast on the hedonic treadmill. As I’ve written elsewhere, I see this among my peers, those also in their 50s and 60s. After decades of disappointment, they’ve grown wiser about how to deploy their money for maximum happiness.
Ready to ditch The Good Life and pursue A Good Life instead? Here are half-a-dozen simple strategies, all drawn from my new book: